Utah's biggest tourist attraction.
MAJERUS: Baseball was my favorite sport until the seventh grade. I then became more interested in basketball because it was just fun, my buddies all played, and I enjoyed the challenge.
I liked the aspect that everybody could be everything in basketball. You could hide, set picks, defend, and move without the ball and make everyone else better. By simply creating the right spacing on the court, you could make the team better.
COACH: Was there any specific person who helped you with the game as a kid?
MAJERUS: Not really. We would just go to the park and play. I wasn't good enough to play on any high level, but I did play CYO ball. There wasn't any one coach I could say specifically influenced me early on.
All my coaches were nice guys but none were outstanding. I was kind of a hack.
COACH: Did you go on to play it in high school? If so, were you any good at it?
MAJERUS: I didn't play in high school. I was actually a pretty terrible player growing up, but I loved the game. I kept playing because I simply enjoyed it and I could get lost a little bit.
COACH: Who were your favorite players or team when you were a kid?
MAJERUS: I followed the Bulls. I idolized Jerry Sloan and Norm Van Lier for their defense and their backcourt play.
To this day, although Sloan and I are friends and he's very nice to me, I still remember him - he's about nine years older than I am - in the backcourt of the Bulls as a hero. I thought I could try and play that way - as hard as he played. His hands were so active defensively and he was on every loose ball.
COACH: Were you reading any books or articles or going to a lot of games or talking to coaches at this time - what were you doing to improve your knowledge of the game?
MAJERUS: I wouldn't say I was developing an awareness of the game. I was smart enough to understand that basketball was a game I could hide in.
You can't play baseball unless you are a really good hitter and you can't play tennis or golf unless you have some talent.
There is always a spot in basketball for a player with a modicum of talent. It is also true to a certain extent in football, but football isn't as much fun or exciting. It was very arduous to be a lineman, which I was. It wasn't very creative and there wasn't as much camaraderie as there was in basketball.
COACH: What or who influenced your decision to go to Marquette University? Did you know Al McGuire before you enrolled? If so, how did you get to know him?
MAJERUS: Retrospectively, I wish I had gone away to school, but Marquette was a great education and the best thing that happened to my career. I played freshman ball at Marquette for Hank Raymonds and I was on the varsity as a walk-on for McGuire.
COACH: Obviously, you must have impressed McGuire enormously. What kind of player were you? Did he offer you a job right after you graduated?
MAJERUS: I only got in a few freshman games and never even made it into a varsity game. I don't know if I looked it as hard work but I sure tried to stay in condition. I just liked to go out and play. By the time I got to high school and then to college, I used to play six to seven hours a day and that's no exaggeration, every day.
Al offered me a graduate assistant's job right after I graduated in 1970 and I just stayed on. He liked me as a walk-on player because I was scrappy. He used to put me on the "One" guy in the Box-and-One.
He liked the fact that I was enthusiastic and really enjoyed the game. I think, too, that he had some empathy for me because I was such a bad player. He enjoyed the fact that I would hustle and try to get better.
COACH: What were your specific responsibilities as Al's assistant? What kind of relationship did you enjoy with this intriguing man?
MAJERUS: Obviously my responsibilities grew as time went on and I also took on more responsibility without it being given to me. I worked very closely with assistant coach Hank Raymonds. I started out doing all the menial tasks, but got more involved as time went on.
I made sure the heat was on and the floor was swept. Marquette was a Catholic school so there wasn't a janitor to speak of and those things had to get done.
I liked Al because he was also so passionate about the game. He was really a nice man who tried to explain the importance of getting an education and using that opportunity and not being used by basketball.
It was fascinating to be at Marquette with so many diverse personalities. Most of the players were from New York and the East Coast in general. It was primarily a haven for the black athlete who wanted to get a degree. I was fascinated when he talked to the team and intrigued by his view of the world.
COACH: You spent 11 years with Al at Marquette. During this time, did you ever get offers from other colleges? Was the NBA on your mind at the time?
MAJERUS: I never thought about the NBA. Right around the time Al left Marquette in 1977, and Hank Raymonds was named head coach, I heard that Xavier was interested in me for their head coaching job. Raymonds wouldn't give Xavier permission to speak with me because I had signed this little two-year contract. Toward the end of that contract Wisconsin offered me their head job. That's when Marquette assured me that I would succeed Raymonds when he stepped down.
COACH: I believe you have professed a great admiration for the NBA. Yet after getting a job as an assistant to Don Nelson of the Milwaukee Bucks, you left after one year. What was there not to like? What made you return to college basketball?
MAJERUS: I enjoyed working with Nelson, who was a great coach, as was Del Harris, his assistant. I maintain to this day that Del is the best X's and O's coach in the game. To be around two basketball guys with such different perspectives helped my career immensely.
I was in too much of an incubator of sorts at Marquette. My whole frame of reference was seen through the eyes of McGuire - and that's not all bad because it turned out to be great for my career. But I needed some diversity and growth and got that with the Bucks.
Coaching pro ball was excellent. We had a good group of guys and the Bucks were a terrific organization.
I didn't have much of a perception of the NBA before I joined the Bucks, but the reality of it was difficult because the travel was horrendous. Plus, I missed the attention of practice.
I did like the fact that so many coaching decisions had to be made and you could call plays and guys could create shots. You could almost devise plays on the spot. I really enjoyed working with the rookies that year.
One of my responsibilities was to work everyday with Jerry Reynolds and Scott Skiles. And another responsibility was to work with the big men like Jack Sikma and Randy Breuer. Other than the travel and the fact that it was difficult to hold a meaningful practice once the season started because of injury and time constraints, the NBA was a positive experience.
COACH: Did you find the assistant coach's role different on the collegiate and pro levels?
MAJERUS: Yes, because at the collegiate level every good assistant, no matter what other task he has, has to prioritize recruiting. That's got to be his number one job. He must stay attuned to some kind of recruiting responsibility every day. That's the biggest difference.
COACH: You then put in a couple of years with Ball State, and there was Utah knocking on your door. It apparently was a match made in heaven.
MAJERUS: Utah is a good situation. It's difficult in some ways because of the geographic location, which becomes prohibitive sometimes in recruiting. But I recruit the same way with all players by dwelling, ad nauseam, on education. I have a reputation and a track record that bespeaks the importance of academics. When I stress academic excellence, graduation and career success, the kids know I mean it and they will buy into that program.
COACH: You apparently have a great romance going with your players, the school and the state. How would you describe your relationship and discipline with the kids?
MAJERUS: I look for his commitment and love for the game. I need to know that he wants to improve in practice and I look for kids who have a feel for the game. If they want to be perimeter players or point guards, fine. I'll look for big men who have good hands and a floor man who can shoot from the outside and has the ability to play outside and in.
COACH: What kind of approach do you use in your recruiting? What specifically do you look for in your athletes?
MAJERUS: You get a feeling almost immediately if the kid is right for your program. If you sense that a kid knows where and when to pass the ball, has a sense of the court and the spacing, he's never going to lose that. If he has a sense of commitment, he's never going to lose that.
Passion for the game is something you have or don't have. I look for kids who want to be coached and have a real love of the game and a desire to play it and compete.
I think every coach looks for recruits that remind them a little bit of themselves, and I don't say that egotistically. I'm looking for guys that really want to play in games and practice and want to get better. If they don't they are not going to be successful.
I'm looking for guys who have the same traits as an All-American like Keith Van Horn. Very few guys can have that ability, but everyone can have that desire and commitment.
COACH: How would you describe your offense - pivot, passing game, fast break/transition, half-court, etc. What are the things you work on particularly hard?
MAJERUS: We try to push the ball every chance we get. If we don't get the ball on the break, we'll run an NBA play or a pro play in the motion or we'll just run the motion. We'll usually run a four-man motion with four guys on the perimeter and sometimes we'll run five. Players have the ability to post and kind of dive in there.
I like our offense because it's really designed to capitalize on the players' skill levels.
We work particularly hard on screening and spacing. Spacing is the essence of offense; all offenses begin and end with spacing. When you get easy shots, you don't have to create shots. You can create shots for others and usually if you set a good screen you're going to be open yourself.
COACH: Do you mix in a lot of zone and combinations with your man-to-man defense?
MAJERUS: We play primarily man-to-man. We play it and commit to it. We've been in the top five statistically in man-to-man defense since I've been a head coach. We are a terrific defensive team because we concentrate on our defense for an hour, hour and a half a day, and that's the way we win games and championships and our players understand that because we've had so much success.
COACH: After watching what the Utah Jazz, and particularly John Stockton, has been doing with the pick-'n-roll, may we ask you the question that most of the NBA coaches have been asking: How would you defense the play?
MAJERUS: There are about eight ways to defend the pick-'n-roll. You can switch it, push it up, push it to the baseline if it's on the side, double it hard, you can go under it, etc., etc. I think it's all played according to personnel. It's all dependent on your opponent's personnel, your team's personnel and that's the whole challenge. Do you want to defend it? Or do you want to contain it?
I think I would double Stockton every time and rotate a man out to Karl Malone. There's no blanket answer for how it's best played because it's best played in a number of ways relative to each team's objective.
It's a hard play to defend. The whole basis in defending it is to make sure you've got the other three men covered and that they can't shoot. When the Jazz ran it in the playoffs with David Benoit, it wasn't effective because he had trouble making his shot. Whereas with Bryon Russell it's just automatic.
COACH: Everybody describes you as a coach years ahead of his time. This obviously tells the world that you are very smart and work very hard at your job. Would you add an extra dimension to that answer?
MAJERUS: No, but I'm flattered by it. I've made coaching a lifelong study and I've compiled the best of what other people have taught me and I've gotten an awful lot of information from my friends in the game, from Bobby Knight to Don Donoher to Don Haskins to George Karl. I've gone around and stolen from the best.
I really try to keep contemporary. It's a vocation and an avocation.
COACH: Aside from your passion for the game and the hours you put into it, how do you spend your time away from the court and the film room? Do you have any hobbies or other interests?
MAJERUS: I like to snorkel, body surf and I enjoy the beach, which aren't the best hobbies when you live in Utah. I like to hike and I'm taking up golf. I enjoy going to the movies, the theater and reading.
My favorite spot to body surf is Hawaii, but I don't get there enough. Zuma Beach in California is a great spot.
COACH: Is the NBA still in your plans? Would you at least consider any good offer? Do you feel your kind of coaching would work just as well in a pro format?
MAJERUS: Not really. I like to go to the games and I enjoy watching players that I know. I've gotten to know a lot of guys by coaching international teams and playing against them. I like watching Luc Longley, because we played against him in an international tournament. I like watching Van Horn, my own player, and next season Michael Doleac, another former player will be in the pros, so I'll watch him.
It would depend on the players. Their willingness and readiness to learn. Their wanting to be good. Quite frankly, I don't know how many of the NBA guys are committed.
COACH: If suddenly you were given the authority to make one change in the rules or to add some new rule, what would it be?
MAJERUS: I would add recruiting rules that would favor the kids. I'd also move the three-point line back to at least the international three-point line, widen the court by about three feet on each side, and widen the lane by half a foot to a foot. That would open the game.
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|Title Annotation:||Utah State University basketball coach Rick Majerus|
|Publication:||Coach and Athletic Director|
|Article Type:||Cover Story|
|Date:||Sep 1, 1998|
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